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BAJA WITH OTTO FLORES

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Photos and words By: Mike Townsend

When Otto and I met in Southern California in the late ’90s, life was fast and inebriated. We later reconnected when I lived in New York–okay, still somewhat inebriated. But Otto’s world had been transformed by his wife Andrea and son Maceo, who are both wonderful, hilarious, warm-hearted souls. Now when we see each other, our discussions revolve around wives, children (future children for Lara and I ), surf and food. During my last visit to Puerto Rico, we began devising a trip to Baja. Here’s what we talked about on the 20-hour drive down.


When was your last Baja trip?

Funny you ask, my last visit to Baja was about 14 years ago. If you do the math it was right when the 9/11 attack went down in NYC. I actually saw the towers go down on a big- screen TV at a place we had breakfast every day. It was a very surreal experience; in fact it was the first time I felt vulnerable as a US citizen. The borders were shut down and communication was very hard to get through, especially back then when all this smart technology was not around.

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Do you feel safer now or then?
I feel about the same. I think it was just a solid reality check, the first since I have been traveling or around for that matter. In my lifetime the US had never been attacked in such a way. But reflecting back on history class, the United States has taken some solid blows in the past. I try to be simple when I travel and research the destinations I want to visit. I do ask a lot of questions before going on a trip after that.

What type of local foods are you craving?
When in Mexico a good authentic fish taco is what I start sniffing out as soon as I cross the border. I really like the local taquerias that have all the fixings. You can doctor up your tacos with a plethora of fresh veggies and all the hot items they have to offer. Mike T led us to one in Ensenada that took the cake, this place was as legit as they come.
At home I always crave Arroz con Habichuelas which means rice and beans, it’s a staple dish in Puerto Rico. Constantly served with tostones or sweet plantain. We make it at home at least once a week, usually with fish, veggies & salad. Tastes so good!

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Are you pescatarian or vegetarian?

Well I do eat fish, so I guess that makes me a pescatarian. I eat more like a vegan, I like to eat very clean and veggies are definitely my go to. We grow some food at the house and picking food from the garden to put on the table has become an all-time high. I do have to admit that living by the ocean has taught me to enjoy fresh fish I make a mean ceviche…

What do you think of this character Alrik Yuill who is traveling with us?
Aside from admiring his trade and being a fan of his work, it was interesting to converse with him on the long drive down. His point of view about sustainable living was simple but very effective. I learned a couple little things from him that could that I could apply to my routine. I was very impressed by the way he ate, how he supplements himself and the focus he puts in when filling his own tank. Not to mention how multi-talented this guy is: shaper, artist and a very eccentric surfer with his own functional style.

What Latin cultural similarities are there between Mexico and Puerto Rico?
With most of the Latino countries, language is one of the only things we share. Even though we all speak Spanish, every country or region has their own slang and different culture. I do love Mexico for its culture, its food, its waves and especially its people. I have been traveling to Mexico for over 20 years and have met some amazing humans and shared some memorable experiences, this trip being one of them for sure.

New York is just a hop, skip and jump away, but you frequent California as well. What are some pros and cons of both NY and LA?
Considering that I was always pursuing my surfing career and chasing waves around the planet, California seemed to be a good home base, an easy place to set aim to a number of destinations I was targeting. The surf industry is rooted in Southern California and it only seemed natural to be there; it made sense for what I wanted to do. The surf world has developed so much in the past couple of years and the technology has allowed us to explore places we’d never thought of before, so today it really does not matter where you are–you can be connected and sharing content from your last adventure.

It’s interesting to see how popular surfing has become in NYC. Surf fashion and surf culture have caught the eye of influential people, making it part of their lifestyle. In recent years lots of high profile surfers seem to be drawn to the city in search of inspiration. I find that to be a good mix, it’s only going to improve the way we deliver the message from a creative perspective with hopes of opening new doors for the sport and lifestyle.

Seeing all this plastic on the side of the road during our drive reminds me that you’d mentioned a project you’ve been working on. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
For years I have been very interested in finding ways to reduce the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean. A few years back a friend from Ecuador, Andres Fernandez, reached out to seven influential surfers from Latin America to start a movement called Granito de Arena. His idea was to activate as many people as we could to rethink the use of plastic. We started by visiting low income coastal communities in Latin America and would teach the kids how to surf to draw their attention. Alongside experts and with ideas from the Internet we would teach them how to make usable things from the plastic waste they gathered from the beach. We wanted educate the youth, not only to leave a better planet for our kids, but to leave better kids for our planet, having them be the voice of reason. I will be working on a project this year that will revisit this idea on a more international level.

What environmental innovations will we see the Patagonia community create–so not just the company itself, but the people and brands it works with–in the next ten years?
I have been working with Patagonia for a few years now and I have noticed that their efforts to invest money, time and energy is not directed to only one cause. They keep researching and creating new ways to make things head in the right direction. The thought process that goes in to anything they do is very calculated from their product to their involvement in environmental issues.They try to create the best product out there without causing unnecessary harm. They help hundreds of non-profit organizations reach their goals and they take pride in donating 1% of their earnings for the planet. Over the years, this has been millions of dollars headed in the right direction.
I think Patagonia’s plan for the next ten years is to maintain their focus on what is important for the planet and keep creating opportunities to lessen the harm being done….

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What are your thoughts on this landscape we’re driving through?
I love the desert, but to tell you the truth this is a little of what is going through my mind on the drive down: Cactus, Cactus, Rocks, Rattle Snakes, Tubes, Tacos, more Cactus, Agave, Tequila, How can I reinvent myself, Holy Shit Baby #2 on the way, Are my boards going to work, WoW whatever that’s called that we had for dinner at your house was good! There is nothing here, How do animals survive this, and Is that wine country in Baja?

If you had to drive 20 hours again, name three strangers you wouldn’t mind being stuck in the car with?
Yvon Chouinard, Kelly Slater and Anthony Bourdain

What would you listen to?
I like to listen to Jazz. All kinds of Jazz: Blues, Latin & Modern. I’m not really singular to a style of music–I like all kinds, it just depends on the mood, place and time. Ha how was Alrik’s space music?

What are your thoughts on recycled fashion?
I think that fashion is always revisiting something that has existed before. I would guess that a lot of the thought that goes into fashion are actually recycled ideas. Now we need to use recycled materials to create these fabrics or pieces we want to wear. I’m sure that if we use our creativity and a little imagination with the technology at hand, this is the direction we will all be going in.

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